Sunday, August 2, 2009

Vegas Maglev Supporters Strike Back

NOTE: We've moved! Visit us at the California High Speed Rail Blog.

On the heels of months of favorable publicity for the DesertXpress steel-wheel HSR project, crystallized by Senator Harry Reid's shift of support away from maglev and toward DesertXpress, the backers of the SoCal-Vegas maglev project have countered with a op-ed in the Las Vegas Review-Journal by Richann Bender, executive director of the California-Nevada Super Speed Train Commission, criticizing DesertXpress's claims and arguing that maglev hasn't been given a fair shake:

Construction on the first segment of the maglev train -- the fastest train in the world -- can begin in 2010 and would be built entirely in Nevada by hard-working Nevadans.

The backers of the high-speed, conventional-rail DesertXpress would like to "reprogram" this guaranteed $45 million away from Nevada, and instead expect us all to just wait five years for their privately owned train to nowhere to get taxpayer-backed loans. This is not in the best near-term or long-term interests of Nevada jobs or Nevada's economy.

Bender isn't starting off on a good note. The op-ed suggests that the maglev project is really about connecting Las Vegas to a proposed airport site at Primm (along the CA/NV border), undermining the claimed benefits of a train to bring people from Southern California to Las Vegas.

Worse in my mind is Bender's embrace of the deeply misleading anti-rail frame of a "train to nowhere." In fact, it was the Vegas maglev project that led Congressional Republicans to adopt that term during the February debate over the stimulus. While I can understand Bender's desire to undermine the rival DesertXpress project, employing this kind of framing is a monumentally stupid move, for it will merely fuel its usage - which will come back and bite the maglev project, especially when they go to Congress looking for more funding. I don't like to use the disparaging "gadgetbahn" term that is sometimes used to attack maglev, partly because I don't like using phrases and frames that are designed to serve an anti-rail agenda.

Bender lists some other claimed advantages of maglev - it's faster; it's a success in Shanghai; and:

Maglev is also greener than traditional forms of ground and air transportation, and unlike DesertXpress, it complies with all state and local land use and environmental regulations.

I would be curious to see substantiation of this claim. Obviously it's difficult to provide in-depth evidence in a short newspaper op-ed, but that kind of charge does need supporting evidence.

The heart of the op-ed are three points designed to raise fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD) about the DesertXpress project: lack of connectivity to SoCal urban centers, costs, and public funding. First up is the issue of the route:

The maglev project also addresses the primary reason for constructing a high-speed rail system: congestion on Interstate 15 throughout the region, connecting Las Vegas to the heart of the population and business centers in the Southern California Basin.

DesertXpress' proposed ending of Victorville, Calif., falls well outside of congested highway areas.

This isn't a fair criticism for two reasons. Number one is that ending at Victorville actually does include many of the primary congested highway areas on the trip to Vegas - where Interstate 15 narrows north of Victorville is where most of the traffic delays on the trip to Vegas commence. So a terminus of Victorville would do much to avoid most of the worst congestion, even if the rest of the journey into the SoCal metroplex won't yet be covered by DesertXpress.

But that journey could well be completed if DesertXpress built an extension westward across mostly empty desert to link up with the California HSR project at Palmdale. This has been discussed by the two projects, and while it would be fair to criticize this as being no guarantee at all of a future connection, neither is it right to exclude that possibility.

Next up is cost:

Second, maglev costs about the same as traditional high-speed, steel-wheel-on-rail trains. DesertXpress supporters have repeatedly cited a nonexistent $40 billion price tag as a reason for not building the maglev project. A March 2009 Government Accountability Office report lists the true estimated cost of the Las Vegas to Anaheim maglev project as $12.1 billion.

In fact, the Federal Railroad Administration also estimates the cost of traditional high-speed, steel-wheel-on-rail trains at $30 million to $50 million per mile, which would mean DesertXpress could cost up to $9 billion for the Las Vegas-to-Victorville route (far more than the $4 billion reported on the organization's Web site). If you put the two projects side by side, this puts maglev in the same cost per mile range.

There's been a lot of debate about the FRA's cost estimates. Certainly any project built in the desert between Victorville and Vegas would be on the low end of those estimates (once you go from Victorville into the SoCal megalopolis those costs will rise significantly). But maglev's history on costs is just not favorable. Consider the fate of Munich's maglev:

Plans to build a magnetic levitation train from the center of Munich to the airport were trashed on Thursday after construction costs almost doubled from €1.85 billion ($2.90 billion US) to €3.4 billion ($5.33 billion US). This is a major disappointment to Siemens, the company who exported the maglev to Shanghai, China, but cannot build a commercial maglev system within its home country.

And the Shanghai maglev has had ridership problems - running trains that are 80% empty, unable to recoup any part of the enormous construction costs.

Part of the problem in Shanghai was that the maglev system route isn't ideal - it doesn't connect the highly traveled corridors. This would seem to be a problem with the proposed Vegas maglev route. As noted above, the initial segment would run from Primm to Vegas - not exactly a high-traffic route. If/when a new airport is built there to relieve McCarran, then perhaps there will be high ridership on this maglev route. But without firm plans to build the entire line from Vegas to Anaheim, it is still much too likely that the costs on this first segment will balloon and kill the rest of the route, leaving Nevada with something of a white elephant.

Finally there is the issue of public funding:

Third, and perhaps most important, from the beginning maglev has made clear that it intends to use a combination of both private capital and government funding. To date, no high-speed rail project in the United States has been constructed solely with private capital.

This didn't stop DesertXpress from actively selling the idea of a privately funded train. In fact, advocates of DesertXpress have for years cited the "private" element as one of the primary reasons their project deserves support.

As recently reported by the Las Vegas Review-Journal, however, their focus has now shifted to seeking taxpayer funded federal loans to cover the majority of financing for the project.

I never thought it was good or beneficial that DesertXpress made a virtue of being privately funded, given the extreme unlikelihood that they would be able to keep that promise. That being said, the reason Bender mentioned this is to sow doubt about DesertXpress's claims and plans. There's nothing wrong with seeking federal funding for HSR or maglev, but the mere fact that DesertXpress has shifted its plans doesn't imply any inherent problem with their project.

It's a typical line of attack for critics of passenger rail - anytime the details change, they use that change as supposed evidence that the project is not viable, is being mismanaged, should not be trusted, etc. As with the "train to nowhere" frame, Bender is playing with fire here, especially since the op-ed hasn't offered any actual reasons or explanation as to why DesertXpress made the shift.

It's a shift that makes sense. It's become much more difficult to raise billions in private capital for anything, as banks hoard their funds and as the recession continues to deepen. That's not the same as being impossible to raise those funds, and private investors are much more willing to get involved with something that has federal financial involvement, as will the California HSR project. A good project with sound management will change parts of their plan when conditions warrant, instead of plowing ahead with an obsolete model. DesertXpress's shift is in itself not a bad thing, and shouldn't be taken as such.

I can understand why the Vegas maglev project feels the need to strike back at the DesertXpress project, which has all the momentum these days. Maglev backers have a much tougher case to make, particularly on the cost angle, and they are in very real danger of seeing their project fall apart. I'm all for a close comparison of the two plans to link California to Nevada, and all for criticism when the evidence supports it.

But Richann Bender and the Vegas maglev project haven't made that case here. Instead they have used anti-rail arguments to undermine a rival without offering solid evidence to back up their claims. It's an unfortunate and desperate move that isn't necessary and isn't welcome.


gabe said...

I don't expect the Desert Xpress to be built totally with private money, but at least it mean that the cost to government will be much smaller. It's all about negotiating positions.

But if they can do it with private money, even better.

YESonHSR said...

Now Maglev is THE boodoggie all the naysayers shout at 45 year old HSR technology. The USA has not even done rapid rail outside of DC-BOS..and we are up to building something like this!!HA no this is not 1950-60 American..

Rail>Auto said...

Any chance BOTH of these projects get built? I would like to see that... Esp if Desert Xpress could focus more on going to San Fran.

Laurence E. Blow said...

As the say, where you stand on an issue depends on where you sit. I found Ms. Bender's op-ed to be succinct, refreshing and timely.

And from what I can see, the criticisms from CA HSR blog are overblown.

For instance, Richann clearly states that "the first segment of the maglev train...can begin in 2010..." and, as such, undermines no claimed benefits of bringing people from Southern California to Las Vegas.

Further, you say you don't like to use "the disparaging "gadgetbahn" term that is sometimes used to attack maglev" but you do. Nice embrace of an anti-maglev frame, that.

It would take too much time -- and considering the likely reception on this blog, entirely too much effort -- to list a point-by-point rebuttal of all the anti-maglev charges in this post. Let's just say that Ms. Bender's op-ed touched a soft spot and did its job laying out some pro-maglev, counter-DesertXpress talking points.

And from where I sit, that's a good thing.

Rafael said...

@ Rail>Auto -

there is absolutely no need to pursue both steel wheels and maglev to Las Vegas. There simply isn't enough potential ridership to support two incompatible HSR infrastructures. There's also arguably no ROW for two of them in the San Gabriel Valley. When California voters endorsed steel wheels technology for their system, maglev in SoCal and across to Las Vegas essentially died there and then.

Even Harry Reid, who long claimed steel wheels wasn't sexy enough, has accepted this and moved on. Maglev may yet happen somewhere in the US, but not in CA nor in NV, irrespective of any claimed technical advantages. The dies have been cast and, Richann Bender is merely fighting a hopeless last-ditch rearguard action on behalf of her corporate backers.

A connector between the California HSR starter line and DesertXPress is the simplest and cheapest solution for enabling direct service between LA/Anaheim and LV. Palmdale to Victorville via a greenfield ROW has been suggested, but IMHO Mojave to Barstow would be a better choice. While about 15 miles longer from LA/Anaheim, it would do a better job of connecting the CV and NorCal to Las Vegas as well. It would also run in the established CA-58 road and rail transportation corridor, an important environmental consideration. The downside is that only a subset of trains would run to Victorville, which would serve then serve only the San Bernardino and Riverside county catchment area.

That said, a case could be made for running tracks from Barstow to Mojave instead of from Barstow to Victorville, since HSR will take enough cars off I-15 to make driving bearable for those starting out in SBD or RIV. This would be doubly true if the HSR infrastructure were also used to supply LV casinos/restaurants using special cargo trainsets attached to those carrying passengers. Each cargo trainset would take ~20 refrigeration trucks off I-15.

As far as construction cost goes, neither the DesertXPress route nor the aforementioned connector will require crossing major fault lines or terrain steeper than 4%. Basically, it's at grade all the way. $15-20 million/mile for fully grade separated and fenced-off dual tracks is similar to CHSRA's estimates for the CV. To that, add perhaps $8-10 million/mile for a modern overhead catenary system (based on Caltrain estimate).

The incremental cost of supporting 220mph rather than just 150 is nonzero but probably minor compared to the base cost of acquiring land, grading the trackbed, materials, labor etc. The only reason DX is proposing 150 is that FRA hasn't drafted any rules for operation at higher speeds yet and, DX is in a hurry.

DX has said it doesn't want any federal money for LV-VV, only government loan guarantees to secure loans at reasonable rates. Taxpayers would be on the hook if the private consortium were to default. Personally, I think those guarantees should only be offered if (a) top speed is raised to 220mph and (b) DX adds a connector to the California HSR starter line to its plans. Construction on that need not begin until after the core Barstow-LV section is finished.

JAtik said...

Need Desert Xpress wait for construction of CAHSR? Wouldn't it make sense to link to Palmdale provisionally - where riders can switch to Metrolink? Or could Metrolink be extended to Barstow?

Alejandros said...

I think it doesn't matter if it's MagLev or Traditional Rail (i.e. Desert Xpress), what matters is - as long as the train does not reach Los Angeles - neither of those projects stands a chance!
Build the darn thing to Los Angeles! Only then (and only then) will it be popular.

ericmarseille said...


Eric from France

My two cents here :

Maglev is a very costly technology, probably the only place in the US it would be better fitted than conventional high-speed rail could be between NY and Washington, under the form of swissmetro (i.e., buried in a vacuum tube allowing great speeds), because the cost of destroying all that's upon the way would be too high.
Maglev is also supposed to be very fast, but don't forget that at very high speeds (more than 360 km/h or 220 mph), high-speed trains become energy guzzlers because of air resistance, no matter the technology...
Just an example of point one : building a line the german or japanese way (on conventional high-speed rail, rails on concrete slabs), is already three times as costly as building them the french or spanish way (ballast); think about a maglev infrastructure cost!

on high speed rail generally : there is nothing like leaving my home in Marseille, then boarding a high-speed train in St Charles, and getting to sip a café at Le petit Nice's terrace just in front of the luxembourg gardens in Paris less than four hours later...(Marseille-Paris = NYC-Montreal)

Last but not least : you should monitor the building of the PACA line which route has just been decided days ago, from Aix to Nice through Marseille and Toulon ; it bears a lot of resemblance to the california line, it will be very costly and very problematic : Toulon is caught between sea and mountains and totally saturated, St Charles station in Marseille is a dead-end, the PACA region is full of wealthy NIMBY's and SBIMBOEs (Stop By My Backyard Or Else...), there are ecologically sensible areas, etc...

andyduncan said...

@Rafael: I did some calculations in a comment over on the la.curbed blog on one of these DX articles, if you extrapolate their anticipated average speeds and use the CAHSR speed estimates for their sections of the tracks, the DX line could get from LA union station to vegas in about 2:15 non-stop with their 150mph trains, add in a stop and some cushion and you're still under 2:30. With a 220mph spec the trip could be completed in well under 2:00 (something like 1:48). Those are based on expected average speeds for the respective sections.

I think the DX line will get a large portion of ridership if it connects to the CAHSR system at palmdale. Connecting at mojave would make it more attractive to the CV and norcal, though the numbers for SF-LV are well over the magical 3:00 mark either way, making me think it's probably a better idea to make the socal connections a higher priority.

I don't think the taxpayers should get involved in this at all unless it's a 220mph line interoperable with the CAHSR system and connecting in phase one to the CAHSR station at palmdale.

Anonymous said...

California is paving the way to legalize narcotics, allegedly to to enhance tax revenues. How far behind can legalization of casinos be, given that it is proven cash cow?

The LA to LV passenger market will never be the same.

K.T. said...

Wikipedia has made a recent update on maglev-chuo-shinkansen, with the initial proposed post based on the release from JR Central

The estimated construction cost is approximately $285 million/mile, using 100yen=$1 conversion.

Japanese version of wiki has more detailed information, which also provided cost comparison betweeen shinkansen alternative and maglev alternative, for chuo-shinkansen. Here isthe quick summary (percentages are approximate):

-Construction Cost: Maglev would be 25% more expensive
-Operating Cost: Maglev would be 60% more expensive
-Maintenance Cost: Maglev would be 100% more expensive
-Demand: Maglev would have double the demand of shinkansen

In my opinion, Maglev needs to prove that it would be better than using high-speed rail alternative.

K.T. said...

Follow-up to that post:

In the last sentence, I meant Vegas Maglev.

Thomas J Stone said...

Just to clarify a couple of very important points.

First, DesertXpress is exploring the feasibility of a federal LOAN, not a grant -- at the suggestion of the FRA -- through the existing RRIF loan program. We always had a loan component in the plan of finance.

Second, as to the cost estimates:

No resputable studies have ever suggested that high speed rail costs are “about the same as maglev”. And high speed rail costs are known, maglev’s are not.

The GAO study only reported the maglev project’s own internal cost estimate of $12 billion – they did not do a separate estimate.

Rather, the GAO Study cited the uncertainty of maglev costs and referenced the maglev comparison study done by the Southern California Logistics Rail Authority, which documented three public transportation authority studies of maglev costs as follows [posted on the City of Victorville’s web site at]:

San Diego Association of Governments (2006) $148-199 million per mile

Maryland Transportation Administration (2007) $112 million per mile – for their proposed Baltimore to Washington maglev project which was selected by the federal government over the Primm maglev project.

Southern California Association of Governments (2006): $99 million per mile

The average of these three studies would result in a $40 billion estimate for their project, which would make it the largest transportation project in the nation's history by a huge margin -- roughly three times the cost of Boston's "Big Dig".

That same study vetted the cost estimates for the DesertXpress project based upon real world high speed rail construction costs of similar high speed rail in Europe.

Thank you for your interest. The project remains on schedule for close of finance and groundbreaking next spring.

Tom Stone
DesertXpress Enterprises

Rafael said...

@ JATik -

Cajon Pass is a primary rail freight route out of the LA basin. Even if UPRR and/or BNSF were prepared to host Metrolink through there on existing tracks, it would be slow going: freight trains crawl up and down extended inclines. A motorcoach service from e.g. Riverside to the DX station in Victorville via San Bernardino might well be faster.

@ Alejandros -

precisely! The California HSR starter line will link Anaheim and LA to Mojave, so any line to Las Vegas should connect there. To avoid a transfer, you need to stick with the same technology, i.e. steel wheels.

SoCal-LV HSR should leverage the investment already being made for travel within the Golden State in phase I. Once the extension to San Diego via Riverside gets built, a second connector from Colton to Victorville via Cajon Pass would be possible, at least in theory. Whether that will make economic sense at that time is another matter entirely.

@ andyduncan -

there is no such thing as a magical 3:00 limit for SF-LV. Taking a half hour longer would simply reduce the modal share for HSR from e.g. 40% to e.g. 30% (just rough guesses, someone would have to do some analysis for more accurate estimates).

Considering the high cost of building a brand-new, electrified, dual track railroad at all, it seems penny-wise and pound-foolish to restrict top speed to 150mph just because FRA hasn't arrived in the 21st century yet.

@ anon @ 9:30am -

it's a bit facile to assume that the only reason Californians go to Las Vegas is to abuse their eardrums on horribly garish gambling floors.

There are plenty of good shows and restaurants, not to mention large conventions, in Las Vegas these days. It's also arguably the gateway to Lake Mead and the Grand Canyon for tourists who decide to rent a car. Moreover, the 500,000 or so who live and work in Las Vegas probably want to get out of Dodge every once in a while as well.

jim said...

@ericmarsaille on high speed rail generally : there is nothing like leaving my home in Marseille, then boarding a high-speed train in St Charles, and getting to sip a café at Le petit Nice's terrace just in front of the luxembourg gardens in Paris less than four hours later

stop that. you're making me jealous.

All desert xpress needs to do is to announce it has 100 percent intention of connecting with and being compatible with the ca hsr, and it will make so much more sense than maglev to nowhere that people on both sides of the border will see the obvious benefit.

jd said...

Check out our friend Bruce McF over on the dailykos:

andyduncan said...

@Tom Stone: Thanks for weighing in. Out of curiosity, what are some of the differences between the 150mph line your project is planning and the 220mph line the CAHSR authority is planning, and how much more would it cost to build the line to support 220mph+ trains? Is it mostly grades and curve radii or is it everything from the sleepers to the catenary wires? Are there any plans to increase line speed in the future? Would your trains have the acceleration and top-speed to enable them to run along the Palmdale-Union station ROW without slowing down CAHSR traffic?

Rafael said...

@ Thomas J Stone -

thank you for the clarification regarding your financing plans. Breaking ground in Q1/2 of CY2010 sounds like a good way to nip maglev between LV and Primm in the bud. Early bird gets the worm.

Now, about that connector to the CA HSR starter line...

Dana Gabbard said...

What I find odd is the California-Nevada Super Speed Train Commission has no website. Zilch. That makes me have even more doubts that the maglev boosters are anything other than impractical dreamers fixated on a technology that is unproven but has sex appeal in the eyes of some. These Vegas maglev folks have spent decades with little prtogress to show for their efforts, gobbled up huge amounts of funds on studies, etc. Despite their claims this is a project that looks to be going nowhere, and Reid's recent bailing I think if the final nail in their ambitions...

jim said...

I prefer DX connect at Mojave not Palmdale as it provides better travel times for the two thirds of the state north of the Tehachapis. ( I know those folks south of the mountains think that Cali ends at Ventura Blvd... but it doesn't)

Link it at plamdale and leave the option for a second connection via Cajon to the ontario-riverside segment and you wind up with much better service for much more of southern california in the long run.

Also allow DX to operate on ca tracks the same way that Thalys and Eurostarshare and TGV and ICE share infrastructure.

andyduncan said...

@Rafael: "magical" was a poor choice of words, but the three hour limit is not insignificant. Based on CAHSR's estimates, it would take 1:54 to get from Sacramento to palmdale, and 2:16 from SF to Palmdale, based on DX's average speeds that puts you at around 3:30-4:00 for the full trip, which makes it non-competitive with the flights out of SF, SJ, OAK and Sac. You'd probably get 95% of the (small, expensive) aviation market out of the rest of the CV, but not much of the market from the bay area or Sac.

jim said...

and DX should have stations at Primm and Barstow as well and some ca hsr trains whould be able to operate to LVS over DX tracks. Even its at reduced speed at first.

Why on god's green earth is common sense and cooperation so hard to come by? I just don't understand how it is that stupid people get to be in charge of the world and I'm sitting here living on ramen.

Common sense common sense. Collaborate people. DX and CA should be teaming up to take advantage of the opportunity to create a fantastic complete west coast system that can easily add Phoenix and Salt Lake in the future.

jim said...


don't underestimate the preference for rail, even at a longer travel time. People prefer the train to flying. Sac and the Bay have a huge demand for rail to vegas.

Even four hour trip would be popular considering they are more than willing to make the current 13 hour bus train trip. Don't underestimate the number of people who are afraid to fly, refuse to fly, don't want to fly cuz they'd rather see the scenery, and prefer the train due to comfort. It's not an insignificant number.

Offer a cushy 4 hour trian trip with some fancy amenities on board you won't be able to keep them away.

andyduncan said...

@Jim, well if it does, that's great. I still think we should build it, I'm just saying that putting it in at palmdale makes more sense to me than mojave simply because it makes it a little shorter to SoCal, and that's where most of the demand is going to be coming from. I would guess that going from 2:30 to 2:15 from LA is going to have a larger impact on ridership than going from 4:15 to 4:00 from SF.

jim said...

Again I don't understand why people think there is more demand for socal to lvs than from norcal. Maybe more locals from La go to Lvs for a quick trip, i don't know, but we do it too, and we have a very large international tourist sector in SF and they all plan to go to vegas while they are here. I turn people away everyday, from out 13 hour rail trip and refer them to the airlines. they are disappointed. They want to see the scenery between here and vegas from the train. I think the LA people should have to eat the extra 15 minutes. Why us?

jim said...

sigh....its always about socal isn't it. I hate to do this but.....Connect at mojave or we will turn off the faucet.

James Fujita said...

heh. I'm actually kinda impressed that the president of DesertXpress reads this blog.

good luck to you, Mr. Stone, and I hope you will seriously consider that Palmdale connection.

I don't know what the technical considerations are for such a connection, but a Central Valley to Las Vegas train would be a lot more valuable than a LV to Victorville one.

Alon Levy said...

-Construction Cost: Maglev would be 25% more expensive
-Operating Cost: Maglev would be 60% more expensive
-Maintenance Cost: Maglev would be 100% more expensive
-Demand: Maglev would have double the demand of shinkansen

This is weird. In China, maglev has the advantage of low operating and maintenance costs: while the tracks run at 20% of capacity, the revenues are enough to recoup the operating costs, though not the initial capital costs. The main savings come from the lack of track-wearing friction. For a longer line, the time savings would also result in significant labor savings.

I'm willing to believe construction costs for maglev are 25% higher than for standard HSR (though I'd guess closer to 50-100%), but the operating costs bit I'd like to see some more documentation for.

As for ridership, which stations is JR Central assuming will serve the cities? If the only station serving Tokyo is Shinagawa, as currently planned, then ridership will be much lower than if there are stops at Tokyo and/or Shinjuku.

andyduncan said...

@Jim the LA area accounts for almost half the total population of the state, more than half if you include SD, and yeah, a lot more people drive from LA to LV than from SF to LV, as far as air travel goes I don't know how that's split. But I think it's rather obvious that a 2-2.5ish hour train ride is going to get a lot more ridership than a 3.5-4ish hour train ride, so I don't think it's unrealistic to think that the majority of the ridership on the DX line is going to be SoCal riders.

Oh, and go ahead and turn off that tap, we'll all just move up north :-), all 20 million of us.

jim said...

ha. you'll get no further than lancaster! don't even try it. we'll know who you are - we can recognize you by your tans!

Anyway, even if there is more ridership from LA, adding th 15 minutes to the LA folks still give them a more than reasonable travel time. Its the norcal time that needs to be reduced. Plus like I said, if you do Mojave now, you leave open the possible victorvill -ontario link for the future will provide even better travel times for even more of southern cal. see how my argument convinces you to agree with me?

andyduncan said...

@Alon Levy I think the construction costs are "only" 25% more expensive on that route because the majority of the cost on that route is all the tunnels and bridges required to pass through/under/over the mountains. It's pretty much a perfect storm for maglev (lots of grades and tunnels, expensive land), whereas the LV/LA route is better suited to traditional HSR (cheap land, not much tunneling, grading or bridging). Also, that's "only" 25% of about $40billion.

jim said...

Oaky how bout we split the difference and put the connection at rosamond

8 minutes each.

jim said...

by the way Does anyonedown there know what the deal is with this place called "california city" if you look at the google satellite or fly over in a plane - there is an entire city, with roads and streets names and everything. but no houses. Its like an invisible city. I'd love to live in a place called "california city" but I don't see any houses there. WTF?

andyduncan said...

@Jim, on behalf of Southern California, I am prepared to accept your proposal of a mojave connection, so long as we build the line to support 220mph non-stop service from LA union station. Also contingent is the whole water thing, you have to keep the word "hella" out of all state legislation, we'll prevent any celebutards from boarding northbound trains, you have to give us back some of the taquerias in the mission district, we promise to stop calling freeways "the ___", we get to come visit SF on a bi-monthly basis for no more than 3-days at a time, and you have to refer to us as "low cal".

jim said...

That's doable. I'll have my people call your people. Should we take a lunch at L'Ermitage to discuss? I hear it's hella good.

jim said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
jim said...

by the way - the use of "the" infront of the freeway names has migrated north in the last 20 years. There were a few of us who went to LA in the 80's, and wehn we came back we started using "the" just as a joke and it then I guess it caught on. Just like those africanized bees. And californians north and south have a habit of putting "the" in front of a lot off things. Especially transit..

" I'm taking THE BART to dublin"

"Hey you can take THE Metrollink and meet me in Pomona"

"I'm suppose to take THE Amtrak but I lost my ticket, what do i do now, I don't have any money and my boyfriend is gonna kill me ( literally) if I don't get to our conjugal visit"

Which brings us to the question of what to call THE HIGH SPEED RAIL.

My guess is that californians are going to call it THE high speed rail" as if that's the name of it. I'l bet money on it.

Should we have on open forum day, and all submit possible names?

Rafael said...

@ andyduncan -

just out of curiosity, where did you come up with 4 hours for SF-LV?

Express line haul time from SF to Mojave will be about 2h5min according to CHSRA. Mojave-LV via Barstow is about 200 miles. Since it's virtually all desert, an express train should be able to cover that in just over an hour, provided that DX doesn't needlessly let FRA limit top speed to 150mph. Total line haul time: 3h15m, give or take a few minutes. Sac-LV would be about 15 minutes less.

We've Got No Money for Toys said...

Ok Guys!
If you stop dreaming this HSR I'll see if I can buy you a nice little toy for Christmas.
You're not gonna get this high speed thing, so go to the website here, and tell me which one you like, then I'll see if I can buy you one for you guys to play.
Be good children! Otherwise you'll get just charcoal.

K.T. said...


JR Maglev uses superconductive electromagnet that is not used by Shanghai Maglev (Transrapid). Superconductive electromagnet will require constant cooling by liquid nitrogen or helium, which would significantly increase the cost of operation and maintenance.

The document (although more like executive summary) released by JR did not specify main station on Tokyo side. I also do not know if these documents were released in English. BTW, I would like to know what makes you think that putting a Maglev station on Shinagawa instead of Tokyo or Shinjuku would drop the potential ridership.

Rafael said...

@ We've Got No Money for Toys -

so you do have money for toys for all of us after all!

jim said...

I'll take a red one.

andyduncan said...

@rafael that's based on the average speeds and times for the different segments that are listed on the CAHSR site and the DX site:

Note these are estimates based on the data provided by DX and CAHSR, they include a hypothetical 50 mile Palmdale-Victorville link along an unidentified ROW:

LV-Victorville DX estimates: 180 miles @ 128.6mph = 84 minutes
Assuming same speed Victorville-Palmdale: 50 miles @ 128.6mph = 23 minutes
CAHSR SF-Palmdale = 136 minutes
Total: 4 hours 5 minutes, with no transfers and no stops (at least one transfer would be likely with this setup)

If they build it to full 220mph spec, and assuming 186mph average which is about what CAHSR is anticipating for the fastest CV segments:
LV-Palmdale: 230 miles @ 186 mph = 74 minutes
CAHSR SF-Palmdale = 136 Minutes
Total: 3 hours 30 minutes no transfers and no stops (non stop service would be likely with this setup)

jim said...

and if they have an operating agreement that allows ca train to use dx track and provide service to vegas in exchange for allowing dx trains to use ca track to provide sf lv service, then speeds for all will increase and transfers will decrease.

andyduncan said...

@jim, The 3:30 estimate is a best-case scenario which assumes non-stop service with no transfers, so that would require such an operating agreement. Getting that time down further would require a mojave split, as opposed to palmdale which would save you about 40 miles on a SF-LV route (about 14 minutes @ 186mph), and would add about 10 minutes to the LA-LV time, or speeding up the trains. It's conceivable that the 186mph estimate might be low given the fact that it's all desert, but then again it might be too high, given the fact that they want to run the train along The 15, which might mean they have to run tighter radius curves than they can at full speed.

I think revenue service at 3:45-4:00 is realistic. Much more encouraging is the LA-LV times which are around 1:45-2:15 depending on the speed of the Palmdale-LV section. At those time frames the line would be a hugely popular option.

Travis D said...

I call Poe's Law on We've Got No Money for Toys. Heh heh.

What is the possibility of getting a more centrally located station in Vegas with DX? I know the expediency of time is of the essence right now but in the future DX might want to be better integrated into future Vegas public rail transport (provided they ever get on the ball and actually provide some).

Rafael said...

@ andyduncan -

it seems we're in violent agreement. Mojave-Barstow-Las Vegas with a top speed of 220mph would permit SF-LV non-stop service in about 3h15m, while Palmdale-Victorville-Las Vegas would increase that to about 3h30m.

As for mutual trackage rights, they're standard business contracts in the railroad industry, but they do of course require compatible technology.

Roughly 2h00m for LA-LV and 2h30m for AH-LA-LV would indeed eliminate a lot of short-hop flights. Since about 1/3 of all flights into McCarran airport are from cities on or close to the California HSR system, building a connector between it and the DesertXpress line could very easily eliminate the need for the planned Ivanpah relief airport between Jean and Primm.

The money saved could be used to electrify the entire spur to Las Vegas and upgrade it to 220mph top speed. Once it is upgraded to feature a passenger-terminal-cum-HSR-station, Palmdale could serve as a relief airport during peak periods such as major international conventions.

There might even be enough left over to run a new high voltage trunk power distribution line near the tracks, to transport renewable electricity from Nevada and the California desert to SoCal and the CV.

Anonymous said...

Has any thought been given to subsidizing the installation of electric over Cajon pass?

Initial CAHSR plans are for an LA segment, a central valley segment, and a SJ-SF segment. That leaves two expensive gaps to get into the central valley. If CAHSR paid/subsidized the installation of catenary onto the existing freight railroads it would allow them to start up an end-to-end service sooner. These segments could be run slower, compatible with the freights now on them. They are busy with freights, but they should be able to get limited train paths to allow build up of demand by getting *some* service in place.

Logistically it opens a few other possibilities: (1) if far enough, would allow DX to offer connection into LAUS sooner than full CAHSR buildout. (2) The freights could convert traction out of the valley to electric, giving pollution energy and maintenance benefits. (3) Gives future diversion routes for CAHSR in the event of maintenance, disruption, etc. on their own high-speed routes (4) starts to build a full electric network that could allow conversion of some Metrolink lines.

Similar benefits may occur if CAHSR subsidized electrification from the SF region into the central valley.

Rafael said...

@ anon @ 3:13pm -

if you want to run passenger rail through Cajon Pass at any useful speed, you'll need to build a new, dedicated alignment.

Bullet trains in particular can't just be squeezed in whenever it's convenient for the freight rail operators, it needs to run on a frequent and reliable schedule. The existing freight tracks through Cajon Pass simply don't have enough capacity to support significant passenger rail volume. HSR isn't Amtrak, one slow, unpredictable train a day isn't nearly good enough.

Besides, it's unlikely FRA and the CPUC would ever permit lightweight bullet trains and heavy freight trains to share track through a mountain pass.

Anonymous said...

I'm thinking that if Desert Xpress and CalHSR could get along it could help both. CalHSR could phase Palmdale to downtown LA first, and start leasing trackage rights to Desert Xpress before the rest of the system is finished. Later CalHSR could lease track rights from SF to Los Vegas. It will be a long time till the tracks are at capacity, till then everyone saves money from shared use.

They could even save procurement costs if they shared platforms.

Anonymous said...

The 3.5bn for the Munich maglev where just as ridiculous as the 1.8bn had been. It's just that first they wanted to build it at all cost and then (after a change of government) they wanted to kill it.

How much maglev costs compared to HSR comes down to where you want to build it. It allows tighter curves and steeper grades (good where land is expensive and geography challenging) but needs more concrete and copper per mile (bad where land is cheap and flat as a pancake). So it will cost between about 10% and 100% more depending on route and raw material costs.

In exchange you get 320mph instead of 200mph in-service top speed (I don't get how you can at the same time disparage maglev as unproven while touting 220mph top speed. Spain, France, China and Japan all shelved it for the moment due to various reasons), as well as lower maintenance (See Shanghai).

You can't use existing tracks into and out of cities but that kills top speed and reliability so none of the 4 mentioned above do it (with very few exceptions). Germany does it but that's one of the major reasons its HSR is crap (in fact all of the reasons are about cutting the wrong corners. Something every major infrastructure project of any kind should keep in mind).

As for US maglev routes I would use maglev for the NEC (lots of people, expensive land, better acceleration for more stops; it would actually make East Coast-Chicago feasible), think that you could reasonably argue for both in CA but LA-LV sounds just stupid.

Regarding the JR maglev: Shinagawa's gonna be the terminal because there's no space to fit it at Tokyo station or Shinjuku. But given Shinagawa's location in relation to where the route's going I can't imagine that they won't include a stop somewhere close to Shinjuku.

Anonymous said...

The Munich maglev cost rise was not due to the technology but caused by change of plans; significantly longer tunneling, underground station instead of two elevated tracks, etc. so it was almost all due to infrastructure.

ernie said...

In reading your other posts it seems to me that no one is aware that there is a second generation of Maglev.
We are actively advocating for the MAGLEV transportation system. We would like to bring you up to speed on the topic. We don’t believe conventional high speed rail has a chance of solving even our short haul transportation needs, and certainly will not properly address long distant travel (coast to coast)

For openers, it’s just not fast enough. We need a transportation system that can utilize existing rail infrastructure and can achieve a top speed of 300 MPH.

The inventors of the MAGLEV’s that have been built in Germany, Japan, and China live right here on Long Island. Since those emplacements the inventors have improved the design by making it compatible with conventional rail (with a cost effective modification), they have created a magnetic suspension field that requires a less precise, and less costly track-bed, and that track-bed requires little or no maintenance.

Conventional high speed rail is fraught with maintenance costs and never will be adaptable to carrying heavy freight. The new MAGLEV will be able to carry such a load and do it far more economically than trucks. It also will be more economical than present day freight.

The president is interested in making our rail system a 21st century operation. The new MAGLEV is that system.

Anyone reading this should email me at